The Fifth Estate is coming up to its seventh birthday (24 April), a fitting time to pay tribute to its birthplace, in many ways the centre of Australia.

You’ll see many photos and references to desert landscapes in our early posts. Our OpEd section, Spinifex, is also named after this spiky desert plant that turns out to be key to holding precious soil in place (also in honour of our contributors who are at the “pointy end of sustainability”).

This hot arid land we visited in 2008 to walk the Larapinta Trail was an intense experience of the spectacular nature of this amazing land we live upon.

There was its scale and age. Our tour guide pointed out that the great basin we gazed down on from the West MacDonnell Ranges, with Alice Springs at its centre, was once an inland sea. But that sea had come and gone from here before life on earth began (in other words, a bunch of us could stop rooting up the soil looking for fossils).

It was on here that, thanks to the evidence of our own eyes and the knowledge of our guides, we could see that extreme resilience and extreme adaptability permeated every living thing in this place. A lesson in ultimate sustainability.

The experience melded like a glove to give shape to some nebulous ideas for this website, tossed over with so many people, to create a safe platform for sustainability – the thinking, the being and the economy that would sustain us all in the face of the challenges from nature itself and the massive burden we have placed on her over 200 years of industrial pollution.

It was hard not to think of those early inspirations late last year on yet another outback trip that has become a kind of habit since those Larapinta days.

It was the homelands tour run through Lirrwi Tourism. The tour offered the single big thing missing on all those outback trips, the opportunity to meet with the residents of this land, to hear their story, to feel this land through their eyes and ears. Previously, any contact with the Indigenous culture had been almost incidental, with information picked up through the lens of guides and observations, or people who are part of the Indigenous art world and share their stories – all second hand.

So Lirrwi’s tour to Arnhem Land was too good an opportunity to miss.

On expectations it delivered in spades.

You can read the series of articles in this issue.

Randy Yibarbuk
Randy Yibarbuk

The most lasting impression came from our interview with our guide, Randy. His words during that early morning hour by the beach, the water lapping gently in the background, his intense but quiet desire to communicate something precious, are unforgettable.

Here was a young man who epitomises great hope for his people. A man who is positive, strong, down to earth and spiritual all at once. A designated future elder, father of four children and a willing mentor to many more, who urges that the future for Aboriginal people is one that blends the best of both worlds.

He knows the young need to know English and function in a white man’s world. On the other side he wants so much to communicate his people’s  understanding of the land, that for want of a better word you might call spiritual, but when you think about it is perhaps a very visceral and tangible connection with the physics of the land: listening to the wind, observing the changing patterns of the clouds or flowering of plants and movement of birds that can point to where the food is, or that it’s time to take shelter ahead of a storm or cyclone.

There’s an understanding not to take too much, to maintain balance.

Listen to the land
Listen to the land

Over and over Randy urged our group of visitors to take back these messages, not so much to bring more people to this “paradise land” as he put it, but so we could to share something of this spirit of the land and learn how to listen to it.

The most unforgettable moment during our interview came when Randy stood up and took a stick to illustrate what he meant. His years in the bush to learn his skills – the “walking” for two years where he communed with elders and his ancestors – were all about learning Rom, he said, tracing the letters in sand, “R.O.M.” he said. “You call it LAW.”

The law of the land. We have it too.

Scratch most city dwellers and you will often find a love of the country or bush. Often frustrated and neglected, but there.

Randy wanted us to remember, connect.

“All things are connected – the air, the sea, the land, the birds the animals,” he would say to our group, over and over.

Everything is connected
Everything is connected

Watch how people respond to a profusion of plants in the office, the frenzy of community gardens and the way consumers increasingly ditch supermarket food in favour of farmers’ markets, and you’ll see ROM struggling to get out.

Increasingly there are moves to integrate ecological values into our streets and new developments.

Speaking of new developments, you can’t help but get a frisson of that same excitement (ROM?) when you read about the Nightingale 2.0 and now the “Nightingale Model” that’s taking off.

The architects behind this uber sustainable and disruptive model of housing (in both environmental, social and financial terms) are in hot demand and watch for our upcoming story about how they are sharing their learnings, generously, with others.

Can one development kick start a revolution? Of course it can. It just has to have the right resonance.

Great headline material, backed by solid high achieving deliverables, can change the world. Because in the end we all want good stuff. Not poison and exploitation.

Here’s sticking our neck out: watch this little baby grow to shake up the resi developers in gaga land who continue to say they are meeting demand by building rubbish that barely meets legal requirements and often flouts it.

Dangerously, that ethic has entered into our high-rise apartment buildings. But don’t blame the developers.

Developers are nothing more than a vessel through which flows the product that is demanded and allowed. Demand is often quite dumb. No offence to the buying public, but why would they know how to assess the value and safety of a new apartment building they’ve bought off the plan?

How would they know what is possible?

We gather as a society to shape order out of chaos. We need rules and we need laws to protect us (from nature when it gets out of control and the stressed out among us). Sure we need a bit of fire and ambition, but it needs to be corralled in a way that trims the excesses without stifling creativity, and in a way that protects us.

The point is that individually we are all fragile. But together we have strength.

The sad news a few weeks ago was to learn that Lirrwi is in special administration – growth too far, too fast, it seems. It’s not necessarily the end of this wonderful venture; the Office of Indigenous Corporations that placed the company into administration has a good track record in returning ventures back to financial health.

We hope it survives. Lirrwi desperately needs to survive. Both for its owners and for us.

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